Tag: work ethic

This Is Either the Best Idea or the Worst Plan Ever

So I’ve been following the advice of the Freakonomics guys, who advise us to think like a child and ask seemingly naive questions in the pursuit of higher truths.

At first, my childlike wonder led to such inquiries as “Why do men have nipples?” and “Can you hit a baseball thrown at the speed of light?” and of course, “If zombies aren’t alive, why do they need to devour the brains of the living?”

But let’s face it, some questions are just unanswerable.

questionmarkleaning

So I turned my attention to one of America’s big issues, and a subject that I have written about at length: immigration.

I asked myself, “Would something like the Homestead Act for undocumented immigrants be a good idea?”

For those of you who skipped U.S. history class to go smoke in the parking lot, here is a quick refresher: The Homestead Act was passed in 1862. It encouraged Western migration by giving settlers 160 acres of land. In exchange, homesteaders paid a filing fee and completed five years of residence before receiving ownership of the land.

So how does that relate to undocumented immigrants?

Well, right now, undocumented immigrants are either caught in an expensive, inefficient loop of deportation/return/deportation, or they live in constant fear of la migra. The system doesn’t work very well, which is something that both conservatives and liberals can agree upon.

And don’t fall for the classic mistake of saying undocumented immigrants should just wait in line to get their papers. It is well-established that for many people, there is no line and never will be.

So here’s my proposal: We say to undocumented immigrants, “Well, we can’t just hand you citizenship. But you can stay in the country if you agree to move someplace where your insane work ethic and tireless pursuit of the American Dream can benefit the nation.”

And then we give them the option of claiming an abandoned house in Detroit’s inner city, or moving to a small town that’s dying, or going to some other location where they can help reestablish a troubled community and work off their debt. If they live in the location for a certain number of years without getting into legal trouble, and pay a filing fee, they get citizenship.

Yes, that’s crazy. Because we can’t solve a societal issue by giving away vacant homes… except that we can. And an influx of newcomers won’t revive rural America or fading cities… except that it can. And the cultural clashes that would erupt over such a policy are insurmountable… except that they’re not.

In essence, there is a precedent for each element of this idea. It would be a massive undertaking loaded with political landmines, but hey, what isn’t these days?

Also, this would not be the only way for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship. It would be one of several potential pathways available to them.

Now, I’m not saying this a great idea. I’m just asking the question and looking for feedback. So what do you say? Is a new Homestead Act for undocumented immigrants worth pursuing?


And the Bucks Will Just Start Rolling In

I’ve written before about the intense, powerful, even bizarre sense of optimism prevalent among Hispanics.

Yes, even when fleeing for our lives from oppressive third-world governments and/or bloodthirsty drug gangs, we think, “Better days are ahead.”

And even when acres of statistics show how Latinos are struggling, compared to the general population, we say, “Keep the faith.”

And even when we become scapegoats for the nation’s ills, open targets for right-wing nutjobs, and the object of scorn in the eyes of millions of Americans, we smile and say, “Happiness is right around the corner.”

Well, if you thought that this pugnacious positivism had faded recently, a new survey shows that it has only gotten stronger, especially regarding financial matters.

For example, a solid majority of Hispanics “feel there is equal opportunity for everyone to achieve their dream of financial success.” But less than half of the general population feels the same way.

And 60 percent of Latinos believe “that those who work hard will be the most financially successful, a significantly higher percentage than the general population.”

Finally, there is the statistic that Latinos are more likely to believe that they are on their way “in their race to financial success” than the general population.

But is all this faith in the future based in reality?

Well, consider that the same survey found that “by their own admission, Hispanics struggle with managing their money and lack self-confidence when doing so.”money

OK, that seems a little contradictory — as does the fact that “a majority of Hispanics give themselves a grade of C or lower when evaluating how well they manage their money.”

And let’s consider that a full 70 percent of Hispanics “have not created a long-term financial plan.”

So once again, we are forced to ask, is all this optimism priming the pump for a self-fulfilling prophecy where Latinos are financially successful?

Or have we Hispanics turned into collective Navin Johnsons, insisting that “Things are going to start happening to me now”?

navin_r_johnson_xlarge

 

Well, maybe the most telling — and most hopeful — data point in the survey is this: Millennial Hispanics (age 18-39) are more likely “to see an undergraduate degree as one of the top influences for financial success.”

Now that makes sense. Getting a degree is a solid, realistic option for achieving financial success. Young people know this.

And what do older Latinos think is key to financial independence? It is, of course, “the advice of elders.”

Yes, better stay in school, kids.

 


All You Need Is… Wait, You Need More Than That

In the realm of simplistic nonsense, few ideas are more insidious than the claim that you don’t need money if you just, well, love each other a whole lot.

hugging

This sentiment has lived on despite the well-documented fact that the number-one cause of marital tension is money. It also ignores the overwhelming financial stresses that clobber poor people every day.

And as for how poverty affects children, well, the data is just too depressing to mention.

And now a study has verified what we all suspected, which is that a family’s income level is a better indicator of the overall well-being of children than other factors. The research “cuts against the grain of oft-stated public opinions on traditional family composition,” which is a nice way of saying that being married doesn’t matter much when it comes to raising kids. Having bucks is vastly more important.

For example, the study found that just 9% of children from the lowest income bracket go on to earn college diplomas. But 77% of children raised in the top quarter of income eventually graduate college.

Take a look again at those numbers. They basically say that if you come from a poor family, you almost certainly won’t go past high school. But if your parents are somewhat well-to-do, you have a great shot at snagging at least a BA.

The researchers believe that richer parents — whether they are married, divorced, or single — can afford to provide their kids with certain advantages, like the best pre-schools, trips abroad, and extracurricular activities.

Hispanic parents often do not have the financial ability to offer their children such resources. So while our strong familial bonds help kids develop into responsible adults, it is no match for the dollars that rich people can spend on their offspring, who will almost inevitably do better in life.

Of course, a rugged individualist is bound to say, “Tell those lazy Latinos to work harder and get out of poverty.”

And this brings us back to simplistic nonsense.

You see, another study says that roughly two-thirds of low-income Latino children have at least one foreign-born parent. This isn’t surprising, as recent immigrants are often poor. But what’s interesting is that low-income Hispanic children are also more likely to have at least one employed parent, compared to other low-income children. This means Latino immigrant parents are more likely to fall into the category of the working poor.

So Hispanics, especially immigrants, are already working harder than many poor people. And yet they are still broke.

The study points out that poverty hits Latinos disproportionally. In addition, poverty often plays out differently in Hispanic households, in that the influence of extended family and community is stronger, which can be an asset.

However, it can also be a hindrance, in that low-income Latino homes often have different structures than the general population. For example, low-income Hispanics may have to set aside money for elderly parents or for remittances back home, which can cut into funds for childcare.

The study also found that among Latino children with a foreign-born parent, just 36% live with parents who are married. But of course, that doesn’t matter much, does it?

 


An Ominous U-turn

It’s taken as a given — a damn article of faith — that each generation in America does at least as well as its parents, preferably better. This is the reason old people go on and on about all the sacrifices they made for you. They wanted you to have a better life than they did.

Well, as we all know, that forward progress came to a jolting halt with Gen X. People of my age group have heard many times how we will be the first generation in American history to do worse than our parents. Let me tell you, that little factoid never gets stale… nope.

But now there is more to the story. A new study implies that the grandchildren of Latino immigrants — the third generation — make a U-turn in generational improvement in some areas and end up worse off than their parents.

uturn

 

Basically, if you are a Millenial Hispanic, you are so very, very screwed.

The study showed that second-generation Latinos (like me) tend to do better than their immigrant parents in such areas as education, employment and financial stability. But the third generation sees that forward momentum sputter and slide back down. Their educational and economic progress stagnates.

The researchers theorize that second-generation Latinos grow up hearing about their parents’ difficult lives in their home countries. I know this was true for me. I heard many times from my mom and aunt about El Salvador and how it was not exactly the most blessed of nations.

Hearing such tales may inspire second-generation Latinos to improve upon their parents’ situation. However, the third generation is more removed from this frame of reference. It seems that abuela’s anecdotes about walking to school barefoot and living on nothing but rice and beans just don’t register with those darn kids.

Of course, that’s only part of the problem. More important, issues like poverty and discrimination may become more entrenched by the third generation, and this may drag on young Latinos, making it difficult to improve upon their parents’ status.

As the researchers note, there is only “so much you can do with motivation and drive to get out of poverty.…At some point, you need the structural means to overcome a lot of these problems.”

Yes, that means investing in education, infrastructure, and other boogeyman “big government” solutions. Somehow, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

It’s almost enough to make you grateful for being a member of Gen X. And that’s saying something.

 


Slaves

I’ve lived in Los Angeles, on and off, for about ten years now. I love it here, and I believe it’s one of the greatest cities in the world.

la moon

 

But like any metro, it has its problems. Many of those can be summed up in the work “traffic,” but of course there are deeper issues as well.

The always-insightful Chris Rock recently addressed one of those problems when he wrote the following:

“There’s a slave state in LA. There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in LA that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

I can vouch for the fact that multitudes of Hispanics (not just Mexicans) are constantly serving white people in LA. This issue crisscrosses some of our favorite topics — race, ethnicity, class, wage disparity, egalitarianism, free will, and so on — and it will not be resolved anytime soon.

But while Rock’s slave quote got a lot of attention, I thought his more salient point was the following:

“You’re telling me no Mexicans are qualified to do anything at a studio? Really? Nothing but mop up? What are the odds that that’s true? There’s probably a Mexican David Geffen mopping up for somebody’s company right now. The odds are that there’s probably a Mexican who’s that smart who’s never going to be given a shot.”

Yes, it’s not just that Latinos are a perpetual underclass in LA (and indeed, in much of America). It is that even the best and brightest do not have the same resources and access that most white people — even the no-talents and the mediocre — take for granted.

In essence, it’s tough to stop being a slave. But as history has shown us, not only can it be done, but it will be accomplished, eventually.

 


The Flip Side

Recently, I wrote about ethnic authenticity, and how Hispanics are more likely these days to stand tall and proud, and not deny their Latino roots.

Well, there are exceptions.

For example, you may have heard about José Zamora, a hard-working guy looking for a permanent gig. He spent months looking for work, often sending out 50 to 100 resumes a day, but he received few responses. Then he dropped one letter on his resume, making his first name “Joe,” and he received multiple offers for interviews.

He landed a job and then paid his employer the ultimate compliment in a colorblind society: “I don’t think they would have hired me as a José — they don’t want a José — they want a Joe.”

Yes, that is heartwarming. All the guy had to do to get a job was change his name, dismiss his ethnicity, and basically lie about who he was. It’s a good thing white privilege is dead.

oreilly_stewart2

Zamora says his decision didn’t bother him, and he viewed it as a marketing ploy and an opportunity to reinvent himself. Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it.

But his little experiment shows that a traditional Latino name is an impediment, even with employers who say, “But we love multiculturalism!”

Zamora says that after his story came out, many Hispanics contacted him to say they were going to follow his example. “One guy, his name is Juan, and he said he’s going to go by John,” Zamora said. “A Pedro said he’s gonna be Pete.…You could work in a lot of places as Pete.”

Yes, I bet you could.

 


Winners and Losers

Recently, everybody’s favorite crazy uncle of old media, the New York Times, asked the loaded question, “What Drives Success?” The article pointed out that some ethnic groups are more economically successful than others, and it pinpointed three reasons for this. The first is “a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.”

It’s an interesting thesis. But lost in the analysis and point-by-point explanation was this side note: “Most fundamentally, groups rise and fall over time. The fortunes of WASP elites have been declining for decades.”

In other words, nobody stays at the top or the bottom forever. And as the article points out, “The fact that groups rise and fall this way punctures the whole idea of ‘model minorities’ or that groups succeed because of innate, biological differences.”

dna strands

So for all the people who think Latinos are innately inferior, keep in mind that there are some “Hispanic groups in America that far outperform some white and Asian groups,” and that this trend is likely to accelerate.

The fortunes of groups twist and turn in a perpetual cycle. And one can choose to find that either comforting or terrifying.

 


Faith or Delusion?

I’ve written before that Latinos tend to be more optimistic about life and have more confidence in their economic futures.

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Well, a new survey confirms that Hispanics’ “faith in the American Dream exceeds that of whites and African Americans,” adding that this optimism “contrasts sharply with the current economic status of Hispanics.”

Basically, even though the Great Recession hit Latinos harder than most groups, it is those same Hispanics who have the strongest belief that everything will work out fine. According to the survey’s authors, “the upbeat attitude … is due in part to the fact that Hispanic immigrants often start with little and expect to sacrifice much to move up, while native-born adults may have already seen their expectations lose ground in an ailing economy.”

So whites and blacks, whose roots in America are more likely to go back generations, tend to say, “This sucks worse than ever.” But Latinos often shrug off the same bad news with “I’ve seen worse.”

Still, as great as it is that Latinos are remaining optimistic and staying strong, “the reality for most Hispanics is less rosy” than their faith implies.

So the question becomes, is this determined mindset a self-fulfilling prophecy, where hard work and a never-say-die spirit is rewarded? Or are Latinos just saps for still believing “they are more likely to move up than down in social class over the next few years”?

In any case, the survey points out that “the hopes and struggles of Hispanics are of particular interest now as they are exercising unprecedented political clout.”

Yes, it’s good to have faith. But it’s better to have power.

 


No Relaxing Allowed

As I’ve written before, we Hispanics are known for our fierce work ethic.

Think of immigrants slaving away at grueling tasks that native-born Americans refuse to do. Or consider that last year, “the number of Latino entrepreneurs grew more than white, black, and Asian entrepreneurs.”

Yes, we sure like to work. It’s unfortunate, then, that so many Hispanics who reach old age have nothing to show for it. This is because “fewer than half of … Latino workers have retirement plans on the job, leaving the vast majority of them with no savings designated for their golden years.”

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Back in My Day

As I’ve mentioned before, I recently became a father. My wife and I were having one of those most natural of conversations, which was discussing what kind of person our son will grow up to be.

Somehow, we got into a “those kids today” rant about how cushy the Millennials have it. After all, my wife and I are Gen X, so we didn’t have the internet, iPods, and bike helmets. We didn’t have parents chauffeuring us around to special events geared just for our age group, nor did we have culturally enriching programs that told us how special we were. And of course, there was never the option of living with mom and dad indefinitely.

Yes, after talking about our childhoods, my wife and I were feeling pretty good about our toughness and resiliency. Look how cool we are!

gen_x_logo

Then we remembered our parents.

My mother grew up in a third-world Latin American country where she literally walked miles barefoot to school each day. Then she came to America, where she knew nobody and barely spoke the language. As for my wife’s father, he was a child during the Great Depression, and he went to sleep hungry most nights.

Yeah, that shut us up pretty damn quickly.

 


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